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Tide excited for new wrestling program
Long County’s wrestling team
Long County’s wrestling team gets in its work during a recent practice. Photo provided

The Long County Blue Tide will be adding their second of two new athletics programs this year. After the volleyball team made significant strides in its inaugural season, the wrestling team looks to offer a new venue for student- athletes in Ludowici.

Head coach Damien Salazar is up to the challenge of building the wrestling program at Long County.

“Starting a brand-new program from the ground up is a daunting task, but at the same time it is very exciting,” Salazar said. “I have been telling the kids at practice we get to establish the legacy of this team and I think they have really taken this idea to heart.”

Alongside his assistant coach Shaun Podunavac, Salazar has been hard at work preparing the wrestling team to hit the mat for the first time. It helps that the middle school started a wrestling program last year and took home a region championship and a few individual titles as well.

Salazar knows that having even just the one year of middle school wrestling will be vital to the success of the program. He is also aware that even with that experience, some will find themselves “back at square one.”

“Coach (Stevie) Harrison did an amazing job with the middle school team and I am extremely grateful for his leadership,” Salazar said. “The transition from middle school to high school is a big jump in competition and some will be able to have immediate success…My job will be to help these kids make that transition and feel confident in their abilities to be successful on the mat, but even more so in life.”

It has been shown in the past that wrestling is beneficial to all sports at the high school level. Head football coach Mike Pfiester has encouraged his players who normally would not play a second sport to join the team.

Salazar talked about the huge benefits and opportunities associated with wrestling. Despite the physical and emotional nature of the sport, he said that it “is truly a life-changing sport.”

“The biggest benefit to wrestling is self-discipline and confidence. This is a rare sport as to where no one else is responsible for what happens on the mat other than you and the opponent,” Salazar said. “Wrestling is hard on the body and mind. The physical and emotional toll these athletes will go through in practice and in competition is like no other.”

Overall, Salazar is expecting growth, both physically and mentally, in the 2022-23 season.

“I am really excited to see how quickly we can catch up to established programs. One thing we have never lacked in Long County is tremendous athletes…Both our young men and women have already taken to the sport quickly and are improving every day,” Salazar said. “You can see their confidence growing and it’s becoming contagious as they challenge each other to finish drills and push themselves past what they didn’t know they could do. My greatest hope is that we will be competitive early and that will translate to success as the season wears on.”

He also looks forward to the teams having the opportunity to win a region championship this year as well.

“We have eight girls representing our first girls’ team, and I am very excited to see them compete for a region championship this year. Our boys team has the opportunity to be special right away as well,” he said. “We have someone in each weight class for the boys and that is rare for a lot of wrestling teams in the Southeast. The most unique aspect to wrestling, though, is that it is a team sport and an individual sport. Our kids will see success on both levels and that is going to be a lot of fun to experience with them and their families.”

Salazar returns to Ludowici after spending a year in Nahunta coaching wrestling at Brantley County High School. Salazar was an assistant football coach for the Long County Middle School team in 2020 and came back this year to take the head wrestling and defensive backs job at the high school.

The Tide wrestling team will compete in its first match in Pierce County against the host team and Salazar’s former Herons on Tuesday, November 22.

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